​NTU studying ways to fly drones safely in Singapore’s airspace

Researchers at Nanyang Technological University, Singapore (NTU Singapore) are looking to develop traffic management solutions that would allow Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) or drones to fly safely in Singapore’s airspace.

NTU said that with Singapore’s limited airspace and dense population, the need for an aerial traffic management system to allow drones to fly safely has become more urgent.

“The aim is to develop a traffic management system for UAVs consisting designated air-lanes and blocks, similar to how cars on the roads have traffic lights and lanes,” it said in a news release. “Advanced technologies that will be developed include smart and safe routing, detect- and-avoid systems, and traffic management to coordinate air traffic.”

The initiative called the Traffic Management of Unmanned Aircraft Systems is spearheaded by NTU’s Air Traffic Management Research Institute (ATMRI), a joint research center by NTU and the Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore (CAAS) whose aim is research and develop air traffic management solutions for Singapore and the Asia-Pacific region.

NTU Professor Low Kin Huat, an expert in robotics and UAVs from the School of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, and ATMRI Senior Research Fellow Mohamed Faisal Bin Mohamed Salleh are leading the research program.

“At NTU, we have already demonstrated viable technologies such as UAV convoys, formation flying, and logistics, which will soon become mainstream,” Professor Low said in a statement. “This new traffic management project will test some of the new concepts developed with the aim of achieving safe and efficient drone traffic in our urban airways.”

Professor Louis Phee, Chair of NTU’s School of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, added that the UAV research at NTU is a natural progression, with the school’s deep expertise in autonomous vehicles and robotics developed over the last decade.
“This research will pave the way for appropriate rules and regulations to be implemented amidst the rapid growth of UAVs. The findings can help improve safety and address security concerns, which are especially important given today’s climate of uncertainty,” Phee said.

Faisal said various scenarios will be tested out using computer simulations and software to optimize UAV traffic routes, so as to minimize traffic congestions.

“We will also look into proposing safety standards, for instance how high UAVs should fly and how far they should be flying above buildings, taking privacy concerns and laws into consideration, and to suggest recommended actions during contingencies,” he said.

NTU’s proposed strategy is to use the current infrastructure such as open fields for take-off and landing and having UAVs fly above buildings and HDB flats, which can act as emergency landing sites to minimize risk to the public.